Getting the US Air Force to provide more ISR assets in Iraq and Afghanistan has "been like pulling teeth", says US defense secretary Robert Gates. In a speech today (April 21) at the USAF's Air University at Maxwell AFB, Gates said the urgent need to provide more ISR assets in theater "may require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not".
Sounds like secretary Gates is challenging some deeply held Air Force traditions. You can read his speech on defenselink.mil, but here's the key bit:
"Unmanned systems cost much less and offer greater loiter times than their manned counterparts, making them ideal for many of today’s tasks. Today, we now have more than 5,000 UAVs, a 25-fold increase since 2001. But in my view, we can do – and we should do – more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt.
My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield. I’ve been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets into the theatre. Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth. While we’ve doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough. And so last week I established a Department of Defense-wide task force much like the MRAP task force to work this problem in the weeks to come, to find more innovative and bold ways to help those whose lives are on the line. The deadlines for the task force’s work are very short.
All this may require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not. For those missions that still require manned missions, we need to think hard about whether we have the right platforms. Whether, for example, low-cost, low-tech alternatives exist to do basic reconnaissance and close air support in an environment where we have total command of the skies – aircraft that our partners can also afford and use."